Tuesday, 13 August 2013
Can Nawaz Sharif save Pakistan?
Deciding an appropriate title for this article was a task that required a great deal of thought: can the PML-N save Pakistan? Can the PML-N government/Nawaz government save Pakistan? They all mean the same thing, but obfuscate one very important facet of how Pakistan is governed today: Pakistan is a dictatorship under the guise of a democracy, where the Prime Minister is the Defence Minister as well as Foreign Minister, and controls all decision-making (not the processes, of which he is quite incapable, but the final ‘yes’ or ‘no’) that goes on at the federal level and in the Punjab province – except for the matters delegated to the Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, who “incidentally” happens to be the Prime Minister’s brother. So the question that this article asks is: can Nawaz Sharif save Pakistan? And the simple answer – even though the new government has only been in power for barely five months – is no.
The above picture speaks volumes of the new government’s anti-terror strategy, or rather, how this strategy (if it even exists) is working. The PM called for an all-parties conference (APC) – which has become a political get-together held every now and then ever since Pakistan’s democratic political parties started developing platforms and forums to restore democracy and oust the Army from politics – which was delayed after the PM made a surprise visit to the ISI headquarters on. Instead of surprising the military intelligence apparatus, it appears most likely that the PM himself – who has returned to mainstream political life after a hiatus of 14 years – was surprised by the ISI and their DG about the reality of the situation on the ground. The PM was accompanied by the Chief Minister of the Punjab province (and no other province, since he has no other brothers to get elected as Chief Ministers), the federal Interior Minister, and the PM’s advisor on national security, the aged Sartaj Aziz, who was comfortably squeezed out of the race for the Presidential election by a hitherto unknown businessman by the name of Mamnoon Hussain – a Nawaz loyalist who used to greet the PM with ‘dahi bhallay’ upon the latter’s arrival to Karachi, and then continued this service in Adiala jail when Nawaz Sharif was ousted in the October 12, 1999 coup. Mamnoon Hussain was rewarded by the new Chief Executive of the country, General Pervez Musharraf, with incarceration in the Adiala jail, so that he would easily be able to provide Mr. Sharif with all Punjabi delicacies and junk food that he could to curry favour with the one who loves to eat.
During his “surprise” visit to the ISI HQ, the PM and his team was briefed for four hours, and the PM was briefed in private by the DG ISI as well. And then the APC – which the PTI, one of the staunchest opponents of the PML-N, openly welcomed – was called off, delayed, postponed, what have you. The Federal Information Minister, Pervaiz Rashid, said on July 21st that the APC would be convened after the PTI Chairman, Imran Khan, returned from his visit to the U.K. In response, Imran Khan has said – on August 12th – that “the idea of [an] APC is meaningless until the government has a counter-terrorism policy to present before it”. And the Leader of the Opposition, the PPP’s Khurshid Shah, is disgusted with the incumbent government’s silence over the ongoing terrorist activities in the country. In addition, he has appealed to the masses that they should defend themselves “without expecting anything from the government” since it would “do nothing to protect their [the citizens’] rights of life and property”; and that the Nawaz government was “more concerned with collecting funds in the name of so called progress and prosperity”. This is what the political parties in Parliament think about the government’s anti-terror strategy and overall methodology to deal with terrorism in Pakistan.
So even if the Nawaz government comes up with an anti-terrorism policy, what will it be? Most importantly, will it rely on use of force, or will it be founded on the principles of honest and candid negotiations with reliable partners? And who will these reliable partners be? Will they be the Afghan Taliban, who are fighting a war against international forces who have “occupied” Afghanistan since 2001 and are eagerly waiting for 2014 to withdraw (or run away, to be more precise) their forces from a country that has not be conquered – or “stabilized”, as the West and the international community would have everyone believe – by any foreign power since Alexander the Great; and what will Pakistan negotiate with them for?
A peaceful and stable Afghanistan after 2014 that is not a safe haven for terrorists nor poses a threat to other countries in the region or the rest of the world? Or will these reliable partners be the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a so-called “Taliban” militia that the Afghan Taliban disavow, and who have taken up arms against the Pakistani state and the Pakistan Army, whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the modern state of Pakistan which will be replaced with an archaic and regressive regime where flogging, amputation and beheading will be the form of justice rather than the due processes of law and the modern system of investigation and indictment. The TTP have proven themselves to be unreliable negotiating partners in one form or another since 2004, when they made deals with the Pakistan Army and/or the political administrations of the FATA agencies, and then reneged on the terms that they themselves proposed, only to be pummeled into submission and eliminated from the scene by elements of the Pakistan Army.
Will it be the Nawaz government’s overall anti-terror strategy to negotiate with terrorists? Imran Khan has also supported this stance, but negotiating with unreliable partners is a very tricky undertaking. Moreover, will there be a clean slate offered to the Taliban/TTP? Will they face no consequences for the havoc they wreaked on Pakistan for the last decade or so? Will the more than 10,000 military casualties and more than 30,000 civilian casualties just be forgiven and forgotten? Were they just killed to prove a point: that the Pakistani state cannot deal with the TTP on their own terms, and must negotiate with them on the latter’s terms? And in the overall “endgame” scenario, considering the regional perspective as well (the NATO-ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan and tensions between the U.S. and Iran), will the state of Pakistan continue to adhere to its three main principles for “peace talks” with the Taliban/TTP: that the terrorists must accept the Constitution of Pakistan as the law of the land; that they must surrender their weapons and cease anti-state and terrorist activities in the country; and that they must answer for the crimes they have committed against the nation – the state, its institutions, and most importantly, the people? Please note that the economic loss that Pakistan suffered from the War on Terror – which can be estimated to lie between US$ 30 to 50 billion, maybe even more – is not even being considered here, and much less importance is being given to the recovery from such a loss; after all, when one considers the loss of life – invaluable and irreplaceable in its act, and terribly large in its quantification – the loss of money or property becomes less and less important, as it should.
And despite the Taliban’s “brothers” (as Shahbaz Sharif called them after they attacked a prominent moderate madrasssa in Lahore, assassinating a well-known Islamic scholar and voice of reason, Mufti Muhammad Hussain Naeemi) being in power now, in the federal legislature as well as in Punjab, the quantum of terrorism throughout the country has only increased. Before one turns to the recent spate of terror attacks, one must remember the exact statement made by Shahbaz Sharif in March 2010: he asked the Taliban to spare the Punjab, and the PML-N in particular, since the party opposed General Musharraf – who took dictation from abroad and supported the U.S. War on Terror – so “if the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause then they should not carry out acts of terror in Punjab”. This excerpt has been derived from the Reuters news agency. Lest one forgets, if President Musharraf or President Zardari are proxies or even stooges of the U.S., the PML-N and the Nawaz brothers are stooges of the Saudi monarchy without a doubt – and by proxy, the Nawaz government will acquiesce to any and every demand made by the U.S. through Saudi intermediaries. After all, during their exile, they were hosted by the Saudi government in a palatial residence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Sharif brothers have a lot of favours to return. If the Nawaz government will refuse American demands to “do more” or do one thing or the other, the Americans will simply ask the Saudi’s, who will “request” the Nawaz government to do that particular “one thing or the other”, and the end result will be the same. The DAWN News was much more aggressive and unforgiving when it came to Shahbaz Sharif’s apologetic and utterly pathetic and helpless attitude towards the Taliban; in an editorial titled “Sharif and the Taliban”, many more questions were raised, and many more accusations were made. Was CM Sharif asking the Taliban to attack Pakistan in other provinces but not in Punjab? Why is it so difficult for PML-N to condemn terrorism outright and without hesitation? Is it because one of their main political operators in the Punjab, Rana Sanaullah, is “in bed” with banned terror outfits like LeJ and SSP in order to get them and their cadres to vote for the PML-N? Why is Punjab witnessing a rise in “encounter killings” by the police, in accordance with how Shahbaz Sharif and his personal justice system functions? Is killing an alleged criminal without due process of law and without a day in court not injustice? Is it not the murder of a fellow Pakistani by law enforcement officers who are duty-bound to protect and serve all Pakistanis? Which side of the ideological divide does the PML-N ultimately stand on – is it against militancy in all shapes and forms, or is it ideologically sympathetic to the ‘justness’ of some facets of the militants’ cause? In sum, the editorial asserted that according to Shahbaz Sharif, his party, the PML-N – which now rules Pakistan and the Punjab province – shares a common cause with the Taliban. The editorial demanded that he apologize to Punjab and to the nation. No such apology has been issued so far, and Shahbaz Sharif has been re-elected as Chief Minister of the Punjab, who controls the Home Ministry portfolio, among many, many others (and it seems rather strange that the PML-N cannot find enough decent men to run the federal and provincial ministries – and devote their entire energies and concentration to the subject of governance that they are supposed to, or given to, administer – for them, because the entire burden of running these various ministries and their departments and agencies falls on the poor Sharif brothers).
Many news agencies and research organizations are tabulating the amount of terror attacks that have taken place since the new government came into power. But some major incidents of the past week alone can paint enough of a picture which can be perused to see how helpless the Nawaz government is in front of their “brothers”, the terrorists who are destroying Pakistan piece by piece.
On Thursday, August 8th, a suicide bomber attacked the funeral of SHO Muhibullah – who was shot earlier in the morning while shopping with his family for the Eid festival – in the highly guarded Quetta Police Lines compound. The funeral – and the attack – took place in front of the Police Lines mosque. The attack killed 30 and injured 60, many of whom were serving police officials. The senior police officials who embraced martyrdom in this attack were Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Police Operations Fayyaz Sumbal, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Headquarters Shamsuddin and Superintendent (SP) Ali Mehr. The provincial police chief, Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera, said, “our brave officers embraced martyrdom but we will continue sacrificing our lives for the security of our motherland”. Too bad that these brave men will have to continue sacrificing their lives because their government is unable to come up with a robust counter-terrorism strategy that would probably not require the sacrifice of these valuable lives, these soldiers of the nation who protect and defend the people of Pakistan. IG Sukhera said, “such attacks cannot demoralise the police force … Terrorists snatched sons from mothers and fathers, brothers from sisters and husbands from wives”. Sadly, these martyrs will be added to the list of dead combatants – already over 10,000 so far – and as the IG said, brave police officers will continue sacrificing their lives for our sacred motherland, while the PML-N government and their boss, Nawaz Sharif, enjoys the benefits of being in government.
On August 5th, security forces and law enforcement agencies went on high alert and scoured the Margalla Hills adjacent to the federal capital, Islamabad, and sent reinforcements to protect key, sensitive installations after receiving intelligence reports that the headquarters of the Pakistan Air Force, the Pakistan Navy, and the Parliament House, along with some high profile personalities would be targeted in the coming days. Of course, when the powers-that-be are under threat, all necessary means to prevent terror attacks and threats against their lives are taken. But when it comes to the common man, the average Pakistani, they are left to their own devices, and to the Will of God. On Friday, August 9th, when the entire country was offering congregational Eid-ul-Fitr prayers, a terrorist attack on a Shia mosque in Bara Kahu – on the outskirts of the Islamabad – was thankfully foiled because of a private security guard. According to DAWN News, the guard opened fire on the bomber as he entered the mosque and killed him. “He could not explode his jacket” because of timely response by the guard. It was also reported that another guard was killed while fighting off the suicide bomber. Earlier on the same day, gunmen attacked worshipers – Muslims offering Eid-ul-Fitr prayers – in a mosque in Quetta, killing at least 10 and injuring many others.
This increase in terror attacks is also being linked to a jailbreak in Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday, July 30th, when Dozens of heavily-armed Pakistani Taliban (TTP) insurgents freed nearly 175 inmates, including 35 ‘high-profile’ or ‘hardcore’ militants, during a brazen overnight attack. The heavily armed militants had attacked the prison from different sides around midnight. Armed with guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and bombs, the militants dressed in police uniforms bombarded the prison before escaping with scores of inmates after a three-hour shootout. According to police, the gunmen launched their attack with a series of heavy explosions before firing rocket propelled grenades and machine guns. The attack began with a huge explosion and several smaller blasts before security forces engaged the attackers. Military troops were eventually called in which conducted a six-hour long operation to take back control of the prison. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Shahidullah Shahid, accepted responsibility for the attack; he claimed around 100 militants attacked the prison, including a number of suicide bombers. As is obvious, this will make law enforcement and internal security more problematic within Pakistan, especially because of the release of the ‘hardcore’ militants, who are not only dedicated to their cause unto death, but are master planners and strategists, giving terrorists an extra edge over the security forces and law enforcement agencies of Pakistan.
This was not the first instance when militants have attempted – and succeeded – to free their captive associates in Pakistan. Nearly 400 prisoners, including militants, had escaped on April 15, 2012 from Bannu Jail after an attack by insurgents armed with guns, grenades and rockets. More than 150 heavily-armed militants had stormed the central prison outside the restive northwestern town of Bannu bordering the lawless tribal regions. TTP commander Adnan Rashid, who was serving a jail term for attacking former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, was among the freed detainees.
Another question remains to be asked (and answered): even if the Pakistan government (still) does not have an anti-terror or counter-terror policy, how does the Pakistan government’s public relations apparatus – or the Ministry of Information and Public Broadcasting – interact with the citizenry when it comes to issues regarding terrorism? Does an advance warning of “so-and-so amount of terrorists have entered a certain city” help in policing efforts, or does it just exacerbate tensions and insecurity at an individual level? Has the government – past or present – come up with any mechanism whereby the citizenry can assist the government and law enforcement agencies in identifying terrorist hideouts, catching terrorists, and foiling terror plots? Is the FIA Red Book even publicized as vociferously and as aggressively as it is supposed to, in a country wracked by a nexus between localized criminal elements and international terrorists? Is there even a standard operating procedure issued by the government or by relevant ministries/agencies about (a) what citizens should do if they have information regarding an imminent threat or terror attack, (b) what citizens should do if a terrorist attack – like a gunbattle or a bomb blast – happens, (c) how citizens can help the government, the military, sensitive agencies and law enforcement organizations in making their communities (if not the entire city or country) more secure than it was the day before? It seems that behind their walls of concrete and myriad layers of human security, the powers-that-be are unaware about the insecurity faced by the average citizen from a street mugger or mobile snatcher, from a kidnapper or target killer, or from a terrorist. For if a mind as simple as mine can ask the questions posed above, maybe there are some minds – perhaps even entire departments or agencies – that could ask these questions. Perhaps they should have asked – and answered – these questions almost a decade ago, and Pakistan would have been a more secure country, despite ongoing terrorist attacks and terror threats. It has been obvious for over a decade that while the rulers of Pakistan are safe and secure, the people of Pakistan are certainly not – and the government, regardless of which regime is in power, has left the public to fend for themselves: buy guns, hire private security guards, or just be more careful.
In this way, the government of Pakistan – again, regardless of which regime or political party occupies the top slots – is losing space to the terrorists because the latter are not winning the hearts and minds of the people – they have ingrained themselves as the main threat to every Pakistani citizen, and have also assured all of us that the government can do nothing about them and their activities. Therefore, the list of already inadequate governance services (education, health, water and sanitation, social protection, etc.) provided by the state of Pakistan can also include security, safety and peace as one of the services that the government/state of Pakistan is woefully incapable of providing to its citizens across the board – no wonder the country’s tax base is so small: because the people of Pakistan know that their tax money will not get them the services that the state is duty bound to provide them at the best quality and at the appropriate time. As the Balochistan IG mentioned, every mother worries every day whether her child will return home safely from school; every wife worries every day whether her husband will reach his workplace safely, and will be able to return home the same day without being attacked in one way or another. And, mind you, the “free and independent” (yet completely unprofessional and irresponsible) media of Pakistan does not help – it is conducting psychological warfare on the minds of Pakistanis and keeping the terrorist threat alive in our minds, not letting us forget the fear that plagues us on a daily basis. The media not only informs the general public, but scrambles to get breaking news, new information, and other things to increase their own ratings, but in the process, they damage the Pakistani mind to such an extent that every Pakistani thinks – on a daily basis – that tomorrow, Pakistani will not exist; that pretty soon, Pakistan will be controlled by terrorists. While foreigners are more likely to believe this perspective than the Pakistani who lives in Pakistan, or the foreigner who visits Pakistan, the psychological damage is done – by the terrorists, and by the equally blameworthy electronic media. Thank God they started using black and white footage for clips where blood can be seen everywhere after a bomb blast or suicide attack. But that is all they have done – they have not done anything (just like the Pakistani government) to calm the minds of the Pakistani citizenry: that was left to Urdu1 and “Ishq-e-Mamnoo”, which the local drama industry (now on its deathbed) had many issues with, despite the fact that all the constituents of this almost-dead industry (and the dead Pakistani film industry) yearn to go to India to show their talents and make a buck. The Pakistani drama industry said that TV shows from Turkey – a brotherly nation and perhaps the only country in the world where Pakistanis are still respected for the help that Muslims from India provided to the Turks in their War of Independence – do not reflect the culture of Pakistan: well, do the item songs in Indian movies reflect our culture? What about American movies being shown in jam-packed cinemas: do they reflect our culture? Even their self-serving arguments are stupid, inane, pointless, and can be easily countered by anyone who has the slightest idea of what “reason” and “logic” is. From the government to the media to the showbusiness industry, everyone belonging to these categories in Pakistan – everyone in Pakistan who feels safe (and is safe) in some way, and is safer than the average citizen – has proven their duplicity, their deception, their fraudulence and their sheer treachery in making Pakistan unsafe in one way or the other: by doing something, they are in fact helping the terrorists and the enemies of the state, so it is better that they do nothing. If they have to do something, they should do so in a professional manner, and should keep public interest paramount. Sadly, “keeping public interest paramount” is what every governmental agencies and non-government organization claims it is doing, but 66 years have proven that these claims are so hollow that they are emptier than a black hole (if that is possible according to quantum physics).
As Pakistan’s 66th Independence Day approaches, let us all remind our newly elected government that governance is not about sitting in comfortable chairs and eating seven course meals every day: it is about serving the people, and protecting the peace. It is about ensuring a bright future for the youth and for coming generations. It is about enforcing the writ of the state because the state is what identifies the general public as citizens whom it is supposed to serve – the state, as a structure, gives teeth to the pieces of paper known as the Constitution and the Civil Penal Code and the Criminal Penal Code, and makes it known (or, in the case of Pakistan, should make it known) what the rights and privileges of each citizen are, and concurrently, what their duties and obligations are to the state, the government, the society, the community, and to their fellow man. Whether the 2013 elections were rigged or not, Pakistan is our country and we must own up to it. We must do anything and everything in our power to save our country from extremism, from regressive thoughts being taught in all kinds of schools, from the negative indoctrination that is being forced down the throats of poor, illiterate children who eventually become cannon fodder in the War of Terror – who don a suicide jacket to blow up infidels, but end up detonating their explosives in mosques and end up killing Muslims. It is high time that we, as a nation, recognize that the root cause of terrorism lies in extremism, in extremist thought, and in the takfiri ideology that has been promoted by Al Qaeda, which places moderate Muslims in the same category as non-believers and infidels: that those Muslims who “conspire” with non-Muslims or the infidel are worthy of deal, aka wajib-ul-qatl. This ideology is being peddled around by so-called Muslims despite the fact that the Holy Prophet PBUH has said, according to Hadith noted in the Sahih Bukhari, that he who saves one person has saved humanity, and he who has killed one person has killed humanity. What troublesome, confusing, ironic times we live in.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing – Edmund Burke said that a long time ago. If our government is too busy enjoying the privileges of being in power, let us – as a people, as a nation, devoid of any differences, distanced from all divides, united as citizens of one motherland, our beloved Pakistan – vow that we will rid Pakistan from all threats and evils, especially domestic; that we will not allow internal and external forces to rob us of our peace, both societal and psychological; that we will eliminate the scourge of terrorism from our country by focusing on the venom of extremism that is still being inserted into our nation’s arteries, its bloodlines, its very fabric, by forces that wish to actually witness a regression that takes Pakistan back not to the age of the Prophet PBUH 1400 years ago, but to the Stone Age.
Nawaz Sharif, you have received your wake up call. It does not accompany a pot of “nihari” and a full plate of “naans” with it, so you may not attend to this call. But the people of Pakistan have also received a wake up call. Some of them received it too late; some received it when they saw dead bodies of their loved ones; others received it when they saw destruction and carnage wrought by those who think that they are more Muslim than us – when that is a judgment that only Allah Almighty can make, and these “holier-than-thou” terrorists are thus frauds and charlatans and culpable of misinterpreting and simply distorting the true teachings of Islam to serve their own purpose, and will receive the Holy Justice that awaits them in the afterlife for passing judgments that only Allah may pass. Pakistan wakes up every day to terrorist attacks – some can be heard, others can be seen through television sets or newspapers. It is about time that we look to our national identity, and conglomerate the positive aspects of all our identities – our provincial identity, our ethnic or sectarian association, our linguistic affiliation, all our identities – into our express of our national identity: that we as Pakistanis will stand up to terrorism and will defeat it. That we as Pakistanis will rise up to the occasion and fight these TTP infidels, these so-called Muslims waging a so-called jihad in which Muslims are either killed or disgraces, side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with our soldiers and our policemen, with our intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies. We as Pakistanis should do everything we can – every little act counts – to show our security forces and law enforcement agencies that we are with them, that we support them, and that we appreciate the fact that they are putting themselves in danger so that we may be safe and live another day. If we are together, and if we remain together, we shall succeed and we shall persevere. If we recognize and destroy the forces that aim to destroy us, to divide us and make us fight amongst each other, then we will be able to celebrate national unity by recognizing the diversity and variety that makes Pakistan what it is – and without any single aspect of this diversity or variety, Pakistan will not be what it is, and what it wishes to be.
This 14th of August, make a pledge to yourself, to your family, to your loved ones, and to your country – that we will persevere, because it is our destiny to do so. No matter what government is in power, no matter who does what for us or who does nothing for us, we shall overcome. And those who seek to destroy us will themselves be destroyed. These are not flowery statements. This is the destiny of Pakistan and of all Pakistanis. We shall persevere, we shall succeed, and one day, we shall be safe and secure. Let us hope that our government – at the federal and provincial levels – can help us be safer and more secure, or at least, not undertake steps that would make us less secure and more vulnerable. In the end, we must rely on ourselves, till our government proves that it is worthy of governing a nation-state as great as Pakistan, through its deeds and its actions, through its policies and their implementation, through its dealing with the citizenry and with the enemies of Pakistan. While we can wait and see what our government does, we will not wait and let the enemy attack us: we will wait, but we will be ready; we will fight the enemy in the physical space as well as the ideological space; and those who seek to destroy Pakistan will know what Pakistanis are made of.